Boosting Rural Employment with Green Entrepreneurship Models

Farmers Working in the Field

India has been facing a silent rural employment crisis for years. Farms are increasingly financially unlucrative, leading the rural youth to migrate in search of jobs. As a result, the average age of farmers has increased, threatening India’s food security. With declining yields, increased climate vulnerability and an aging farming population, India fears a food security crisis in future. 

Simultaneously, India is fighting to preserve its biodiversity, alongside its overall ecological and climate resilience. Under the Paris Agreement, India has committed to restoring 13 million hectares of degraded and deforested land by 2020. Yet, data from Global Forest Watch suggests an overall decline in forest cover. 

About 60% of Indian economy is dependent on nature, covering sectors ranging from natural resources to food, fisheries and tourism. Building a naturally positive economy, especially for rural communities, is one of the low-hanging fruits we must build on in the coming years. 

Building green entrepreneurship through farms 

Effective management of India’s farmlands, including the optimising land use through agroforestry models, is the first step. This includes allowing farmers to sow more crops in a single area while minimising overall inputs through the natural regeneration of soil through crop complementarity. Biochar and the introduction of higher-value low-input crops such as bamboo or mushrooms, are other solutions. Employment opportunities can be generated through heirloom seed preservation efforts. Similarly, restoring and regenerating the native bee species, critical to maintaining the farm’s natural support systems, will also create job opportunities.

Solar is another avenue for expansion. Existing schemes in states like Karnataka allow farmers to sell excess power from solar pumps back to the government. Through models like agro-voltaics, where solar panels are installed at a height over croplands, farmers get additional revenue by selling the power produced back to the grid, while powering their own farms and reducing their overheads. 

Strengthening forest entrepreneurship 

To restore and manage India’s forests, investment is crucial. A 2009 estimate suggested that investing in the forestry sector alone could create 10 million jobs and generate up to $4 billion (at that time) in value for the GDP. Since then, India’s forests have only degraded, making forest restoration, protection and management a highly underleveraged opportunity for green jobs. With over 250 million Indians dependent on forests for their livelihoods, a full- scale restoration plan for forests across the country can create jobs that counteract the pressures of migrating to urban centres for jobs. Full-scale forest restoration and agroforestry plans in the North East, for example, could generate up to at least 2 million jobs. 

Using the MGNREGS scheme for forest and green cover restoration can sequester up to 249 MT of carbon by 2030. An opportunity to build a rural carbon market by leveraging REDD and other payments for ecosystem services programs, this creates opportunities for rural communities to restore forests and become forest and carbon managers. India seeks to create an additional carbon sink of 2.5-3 billion tonnes through green cover under the Paris Agreement. 

Getting there 

India needs robust climate-smart agricultural policies tailored to local conditions, which crucially elevates indigenous and local crops. Farming that optimizes the land’s natural capital, such as agroforestry, must be supported. Effective crop insurance is vital, as is the need for market-based connectivity. 

Sikkim’s rollout of the Sikkim Organic Mission is a big lesson. Market connectivity was built at the local village level through village-based traders – enabling farmers to directly sell their produce with an immediate guarantee on earnings. Extensive workshops & training were provided to skilled farmers. Market linkage support has to extend beyond branding and selling to include collection points, immediate payment at local levels and clusters to enable effective scale. The past year has hammered home the need for business models and policies that invest in restoring nature. The quicker we can ramp up our efforts to deliver a sustainable, resilient economy and businesses, the better we will be to face the biodiversity and climate crisis. A nature-positive economy does not have to be a burden.

It is an opportunity to invest in creating sustainable jobs in rural India, enhance the economic and spending power of citizens and foster a robust, future-oriented economic recovery. 

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